How We Use Fuzzing Integrated by Ada Logics

fuzzing teleport ada logics

This summer, Ada Logics integrated continuous fuzzing into Teleport to strengthen the security posture of the project. We’d like to thank Adam Korczynski from Ada Logics for initiating contact and doing the work. In this blog post, we will give a brief introduction to fuzzing and explain how to carry on the work moving forward.

The motive for this work was to take the first steps in implementing fuzzing into Teleport’s development pipeline. In essence, this included constructing an initial set of fuzzers as well as integrating Teleport into OSS-Fuzz, which is a service offered by Google to continuously fuzz important open source projects.

What is fuzzing?

A fuzzer is a program that passes randomized data to an entrypoint of a target application. The goal is to stress test the target application by finding inputs that bring the application into an undesirable and buggy state. In recent years, fuzzing has made tremendous progress, and the open source fuzzing project OSS-Fuzz has, to date, found more than 20,000 bugs and vulnerabilities in more than 350 open source projects.

The fuzzers written for the Teleport project were implemented by way of go-fuzz. Go-fuzz is a fuzzing engine that handles the input data generation as well as passing this data to the entrypoint defined in a fuzz harness. Go-fuzz is a coverage-guided fuzzer, which from a high-level perspective means that the fuzzer uses coverage information from the target execution to continuously explore more and more code in the target. This type of fuzzing is by far the most widely used technique and is often the most effective technique as argued by Mateusz Jurczyk of Google’s Project Zero:

“As AFL, LibFuzzer and other coverage-guided fuzzers have recently shown, this single feature can improve fuzzing results by an order of magnitude, depending on the target software, nature of input data and quality of the initial corpus.”

How does fuzzing help Go projects?

Fuzzing has had a tremendous impact on memory-unsafe languages like C and C++. Go, on the other hand, is a memory-safe language and the bugs we can find in Go projects are a bit different than traditional memory corruption vulnerabilities. Two examples of popular bugs in Go are, “slice access out of range” and “nil pointer dereference,” which cause a program to panic (crash). The maintainer of go-fuzz has conveniently created a list with many of the findings from Go-Fuzz that is accessible here. A quick scroll will show some large projects on the list, including multiple bug reports submitted to the standard library.

Go-fuzz has also found various security critical bugs in popular open source projects. CVE-2019-11254 in Kubernetes was found by a fuzzer running on the OSS-fuzz platform, and CVE-2019-13126 was found in the NATS Server project by independent researchers.

Continuous fuzzing

To provide a sustainable solution, Teleport’s fuzzers now run continuously through OSS-fuzz. OSS-fuzz is a project by Google that offers an infrastructure free of charge for open source projects to run, monitor, and manage fuzzers. The costs of running them are covered by Google as well and fuzz runs are scheduled to run them automatically. OSS-fuzz handles the collection of corpus of the fuzzers and uses this corpus for future runs, and statistics of runs and bug reports are available through a dashboard.

What this means for Teleport is that the two initial fuzzers as well as all future ones added to the project on github will run continuously through OSS-fuzz.

It furthermore means that Teleport is supported by a dedicated team that works on implementing the latest techniques and research into OSS-fuzz to support all the projects on the platform. Over time, this will prove fruitful as new features are introduced to improve the effectiveness of the existing fuzzers.

First finding

And we already have some results! The fuzzers found an issue in Teleport’s RBAC expression parser.

Teleport’s RBAC expressions are of the form {{external.claim_name}} and are used to dynamically configure access rules based on information received from the SSO provider (e.g. the groups that a user belongs to).

Most of the time, this expression will be two levels deep ({{internal.user}} or {{external.claim_name}}) but there are more complex cases. To keep the code flexible, we walked the entire expression however long it took. Unfortunately, our expression walking code was recursive and allocated a lot of small buffers along the way. The performance and memory use grew exponentially with the number of levels in the expression!

When provided with a very long expression, like {{a.a.a.a…100,000 times…a.a.a}}, the parser would take minutes and consume a huge chunk of available memory. Sending an expression <1MB large, an attacker could DoS (denial of service) the Teleport instance.

Luckily, to submit such an expression to Teleport, an attacker needs privileged access to the Teleport auth service, usually reserved for administrators. Therefore, we fixed this in the public in Teleport 5.0.0 without backporting it to earlier versions.

How you can help

We’re off to a great start with fuzzing, but it’s just the beginning. To catch more issues we need more fuzzers for code that accepts external input.

This is where open source contributions are helpful! If you use Teleport, this is a good way to increase your confidence in its security and stability. If you want to learn practical fuzzing, Teleport is a great target to start. Don’t worry, you won’t be on the hook to fix any nasty findings, the Teleport team can take care of that.

Don’t want to let a company benefit from your free work? That’s understandable, but consider fuzzing your own code or contributing fuzzers to other OSS projects!

Writing a fuzzer

It’s quite easy - all you need is a bit of Go knowledge, familiarity with GitHub, and finding an interesting piece of code to fuzz. When you find a good fuzzing target, add new fuzzer in lib/fuzz/fuzz.go (you can use existing fuzzers as an example):

func FuzzFooBar(data []byte) int {
  err := foo.Bar(data)
  if err != nil {
   return 0
  return 1

Here, foo.Bar is a function we want to fuzz. We need to pass the ‘data’ argument to it somewhere, which will contain the test input generated by oss-fuzz.

Returning 1 tells oss-fuzz to explore more inputs similar to the current one, while returning 0 tells oss-fuzz to de-prioritize it. Generally, you want to de-prioritize “invalid” inputs that get filtered out early by the parser. That way, the fuzzer gets to cover more code which increases the probability of finding bugs.

In case you are looking for a practical walk-through of fuzzing with go-fuzz, check out this article on getting started with go-fuzz that takes you from zero knowledge of fuzzing through the steps up to fuzzing a large open source project.

After you wrote your fuzzer (and made sure it compiles), send a pull request and that’s it!

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